Recently a British performance journal asked me to write a short text in response to the following question: 'What book or books have most influenced you in your career?' Leaving aside any questions and misgivings I might have about notions of a 'career', let alone the possibility of collapsing a life time of reading into what would inevitably be a reductive fiction, this was my response:
One of the most influential books for me in my early forays into performance making doesn’t actually exist. For it’s one of Prospero’s 24 volumes in Peter Greenaway’s film Prospero’s Books – ‘A Book of Motion’:
‘This is a book that at the most simple level describes how birds fly and waves roll, how clouds form and apples fall from trees. It describes how the eye changes its shape when looking at great distances, how hairs grow in a beard, why the heart flutters and the lungs inflate involuntarily and how laughter changes the face. At its most complex level, it explains how ideas chase one another in the memory and where thought goes when it is finished with … It drums against the bookcase shelf and has to be held down with a brass weight’ (Greenaway 1991: 24).
So, an imagined conflation of the complex systems of oceanography, aerodynamics, meteorology, gravity and biology, that also traces the unpredictable trajectories of the dance of remembering and forgetting in the processes of thought. The very notion of such a book excited me, drawing my attention to something of the infinite array of kinds of movement, phenomenal and ideational. It was a kind of wake up call into the dynamic motilities within which we are always already swimming.
In the first Addams Family film, Christopher Lloyd’s Fester lifts a related book from a shelf in the family’s gothic library, then opens it to unleash a storm that strikes him full in the face and fills the room. This magical volume contains a virtual tempest within its covers that can only be calmed by snap-shut closure, replacement on the shelf, return to the orderly and the contained.
All books, all writing should be tempest-machines. Vortices of energetic overflowings, generating new winds away from home. Why else would one write? Why else would one read?
Greenaway, Peter (1991). Prospero’s Books, London: Chatto and Windus